A lack of female representation is not a new issue for KCLSU. Can a new campaign bring a wind of change?
On Tuesday, the 22nd of January, King’s Student Union launched its ‘She Should Run’ campaign at Bush House. The event, which was attended by a mere twelve people, was nonetheless empowering for its audience.
The Launch hosted a panel of four speakers: Sarah Lasoye, the NUS Women’s Officer; Sparsh Sehgal, the current KCL Women’s Officer; Sue Vanstone, KCL’s 1969 Lady Vice President, and Abby Wilson, the 2000 Student Union President.
She Should Run is a project launched by KCLSU aimed to encourage women to run for elected positions. It aims to do this by conducting workshops and events as well as providing “practical support”.
“Even if they don’t win, we want females to come forward and be role models,” KCL Women’s Officer Sparsh Sehgal told the crowd.
“I’m hoping that it will demystify the election process and that prospective candidates will know what the role entails,” Jessica Oshodin said regarding her hopes for the upcoming campaign.
The launch highlighted the history of female KCLSU leadership – a troubling narrative in which only 4 women have been Student Union President since 1988 despite women currently making up 62% of the student population. Not only are women not being elected, but not many women run for student office at all.
“Women are less likely to run in elections. They are deterred either by lack of representation or by the experiences they see other women go through. Whether you’re spoken over in meetings or your ideas are taken and co-opted,” NUS Women’s Officer Sarah Lasoye told the crowd during her speech.
In previous years, a position entitled “Lady Vice President” had intended to bring women into student leadership but the reality seen in the student handbooks from that time paints a dated picture in which their role was described as “hostess of the union” and the women were described primarily by their looks. Sue Vanstone, who held the position in 1969, attended the launch and spoke of her memories in student office fondly.
“Yes, we did wear miniskirts, but we thought we were equals; we were there to have as much fun as the men, to drink as much as them,” she recounted while also sharing anecdotes of the Beatles and the marches to free Nelson Mandela.
Abby Wilson, who was the Student Union president in 2000, gave a mixed account of her time at the Presidency.
“I didn’t consider the fact that I was a woman as a barrier before I decided to run but it became apparent after I was elected,” she recalled. Wilson spoke about the challenges establishing her authority that she met as a female Student Union president.
However, despite this, she considered her time in the Presidency one of her greatest learning experiences and directed her voice to every woman in the room when she said:
“If there is an issue that you want to change or that the people you represent want to change, then all you can do is try.”
Wilson’s message appears to have resonated with the attendees. Shiza Touqeer, KCL student and president of the Pakistani Society commented after the event: “Now I’m sure what I want to do and I think it’s right for me to run.”
Reporting by Isabella Anderson, Julie Rakas and Tara Sahgal